Pranzo Saturdays at Focaccia, Hyatt Regency Chennai


Shot glasses filled with a dip and topped with crunchy crudites, eggplant and French bean salad, slices of bocconcini sitting pretty atop slices of tomato, an interesting beet and orange salad and eggplant parmagiana. And that was only some of the vegetarian offerings. For meat lovers, there were servings of bacon wrapped around quartered figs, tiny servings of tuna nicoise, parma ham with melon, prawn cocktail salad, scotch egg quarters in a spicy tomato sauce, and the list goes on.

Italians consider pranzo or lunch, the most important meal of the day.

Invited to review Pranzo Saturdays buffet at Focaccia, Hyatt Regency's trattoria style restaurant, my dining companion and I chose a table near the large windows that overlooked the main road. Muted and earthy shades of brown on the walls and floor added to the feeling of warmth and coziness. The restaurant was buzzing with activity - servers bringing food to the tables and diners helping themselves at the buffet service. The food was served in courses- primi, secondi and dolci. Self explanatory, I'm sure.

The busy kitchen specialises in Southern Italian and Mediterranean food and is helmed by the executive chef whom we couldn't meet that day, executive sous chef  Manvinder Singh and chef de cuisine Roberto Zorzoli from Milan. This pranzo did showcase quite a few Italian dishes and the chefs gave us a little tour of the buffet counters.

A big wheel of Parmesan dominated the cheese counter; there was also gouda, both plain and spiced. And what's nice was that they were the real deal.

The pranzo buffet starts with an aperitivo. Wine, prosecco, beer and sangria are on offer. We chose sparkling wine and that was a good accompaniment to the cheese and breads.

Sparkling wine

An array of breads. Our favourite was the star shaped ones

All the ingredients to make your own salad

We took a quick tour of the antipasti selection:

Veg delights- crudites, asparagus, corn & broccoli, bocconcini tomato, beet & orange, eggplant French bean salads

Refreshing apple and cinnamon shots

And at the non veg section...the only grouse we had was with the smoked salmon.

Non veg antipasti- bacon & fig, cold cuts, tuna nicoise, scotch eggs, prawn cocktail, ham & melon

Thin crust chicken pizza

We had a wedge each of a vegetable and a chicken pizza. Baked in the wood fired oven, both slices were delicious. And cheesy. And a wonderful Tuscana tomato soup that had flecks of garlic and basil, was easily the highlight of the meal. 

We left it to the chef to make us a salad. It was a tall beauty - layered salad greens and tomato slices which had been tossed in a light orange dressing, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and topped with a pat of goat's cheese. And walnut halves. Definitely my kind of salad.
Porcini risotto

Decisions, decisions...was it going to be seafood bolognaise, or a rigatoni lasagna for the first course? Chef Roberto recommended a mushroom risotto. And what a fantastic recommendation. Cooked to perfect al dente, the rice was creamy; the earthy flavour of the chunks of porcini mushrooms was just divine. Incidentally, Chef Roberto specialises in risotto.

Delicious chicken cacciatore, marinated shrimps and meat secondi

The vodka marinated shrimp was so fresh and tasted of the sea, the lamb chops with whiskey marination, was tender. The rosemary chicken had just the right amount of rosemary as it is a herb which can dominate if used with a heavy hand. Every one of the meats was perfectly seasoned, nothing detracted from the taste. Just the way I like food to taste- subtly seasoned and full of flavour. 

We were careful not to stuff ourselves too much as we had peeked at the dessert counter a little earlier. In a word, it was all irresistible. So we decided to pick up one of everything and share it.

Brownies, hazelnut mousse, passionfruit mousse cake, meringue boxes, mud cake

And as if that was not enough... 

Pannacotta, baked yoghurt, strawberry mousse cake, litchi mousse, coffee chocolate pot

The brownies were heavenly, also the mud cake, baked yoghurt, passion fruit mousse cake and especially the coffee chocolate pot with the interesting additions inside. The pannacotta wasn't set, the litchi mousse, while refreshing, was rather too sweet and the base of the strawberry mousse cake soggy. But the mousse itself was so good.
I liked the way individual portions were plated. The chef did ask us if we wanted chilli flakes on any of the food!! Obviously, he's prepared to customise taste to please every kind of palate.

Service is unobtrusive yet efficient. Cutlery and plates are changed between courses and the servers are always at hand to attend to your every request. 

So the next time a Saturday rolls around and you just want to laze the day away, it's a good idea to hit Focaccia for pranzo. And experience a slice of Italy. 

1399/ ++for the non alcoholic buffet, 1699/++ with alcohol.
For an extra 500/, you can get to use the pool. 

Hainanese style chicken rice


Most Singaporeans love Hainanese chicken rice, in fact, many consider it the national dish. It's quite simple to make and to help matters along, there are even companies that package the ingredients in a ready to use format. All you need is the chicken and rice!

Prepackaged chicken rice

Chicken rice involves poaching a whole chicken, saving half the stock to make into a soup and cooking rice in the remaining. The chicken is then chopped into small pieces, seasoning poured over and served with the soup, rice, slices of cucumber, tomato and chilli sauce. For that authentic taste, a few pandan leaves will do the trick. Simple, right?

Here's how I do it-

Hainanese style chicken rice 


1.3 kg whole dressed chicken, skin intact
6 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed with the side of the knife
2 slices ginger
2 spring onions
3 pandan leaves, torn, keep 1 for cooking rice (optional)
1 tsp Chinese sesame oil
2.5 litres water
1 tsp salt
Chopped spring onion for the soup

Chop off the wing tips of the chicken, give it a good scrub with salt inside and out, wash it. 
Fill a pot with 2.5 litres of water and bring it to the boil. 
Put the garlic, ginger, spring onions, pandan leaves, sesame oil and salt into the water. 
When the water comes back to the boil, immerse the chicken in the water and let the water to come back to the boil for another 5 minutes.
Place a plate over the chicken to ensure it stays submerged.
Skim off any foam that rises to the top.
Place the lid on the pot, simmer for 10 minutes then switch off the flame.
Leave the pot undisturbed for 35 minutes, don't open the lid.  
Towards the end of cooking time, fill another pot with ice cold water and add in some ice cubes.

As soon as the time is up, lift the chicken out of the poaching liquid and immerse it into the ice water. Change the water or add more ice cubes till the chicken is cold.
Drain it well and mop off excess water with a paper towel.
Rub some of the seasoning over the chicken and keep aside.
Strain the stock and keep aside, discard the solids.  

450 gm basmati rice
1 slice ginger
1 pandan leaf, torn
Salt to taste
625 ml reserved stock

Wash and soak 450 grams long grain fragrant rice (I use basmati) for about 10 minutes. 
Drain it through a colander. 
In a rice cooker, put in the rice, stock, ginger, pandan leaf and salt to taste. 
Switch on and leave to cook.

Seasoning for chicken
4 tablespoons light soya sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sugar

 Mix together all the sauce ingredients. Add salt only if necessary.

Chilli sauce 
12 dry red chillies, remove stalks and break into halves
1" piece ginger, peeled
4 cloves garlic
Vinegar, salt and sugar to taste

Soak the chillies in hot water for about 20 minutes.
Drain and grind along with ginger, garlic and some vinegar.
Transfer to a saucepan and bring to the boil, add salt and a little sugar to taste.
When cool, transfer into a small bowl.

To serve
Chop the chicken into bite size pieces. arrange on a serving dish, pour over the remaining seasoning. Arrange slices of cucumber and tomato around the chicken.

Boil the remaining stock, season to taste and garnish with diced spring onion. 

Serve the chicken with the rice, cucumber and tomato slices and soup. Don't forget the chilli sauce and some dark soya sauce.

At the Casseroles and One Dish Meals workshop


The swirling mists parted, and through the space came a sound. It got shriller and finally, the mists dissipated and the sound of the alarm clock registered. I reached out and thumped it off and burrowed deeper into the blanket. The mists almost closed up again when there was a thought... why was the alarm on at all? I almost jumped out of bed when I realised there was plenty to do before start of class. Moving the curtain aside, I looked out of the window to see a rain-kissed grey sky. Ooh, just the weather for a hot casserole...

And that day, thanks to the good weather, a great bunch of students went home with these:

a chicken and vegetable casserole that had to be done in a roasting pan (who cares, as long as there's plenty in it);

a yummy, scrummy picnic meat loaf;

a tuna loaf with thousand island dressing) - one student told me it was the first time she was having tuna and she loved it (phew!);

a pasta chicken bake that could be served 3 ways;

and just when they thought the sight and aroma of all that food would make them pass out in hunger, they got to make and eat their own croque messieurs!! dancing smiley courtesy of www.freesmileys.orgYum yum yum!!!

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